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Jason Ng



PhD title: Kew and Colonial Botanic Gardens in an Era of Decolonization


In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a network of colonial botanic gardens facilitated the exchange of plants and knowledge across Britain’s expanding empire. The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew was the central node of this network, supplying personnel and training, and was instrumental in the development of colonial gardens, shaping the wider landscapes of Britain’s colonies. While much of the literature surround Kew has chartered its transformation from royal pleasure gardens in the eighteenth century to department of state in 1841 and its growing importance within a global network of colonial gardens, few beginning from a British metropolitan or colonial perspective extend far into the twentieth century. 

This collaborative doctoral research project between King’s College London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew aims to address the deficiency in historical understanding of Kew as a global actor by investigating Kew’s relations with overseas botanic gardens from the early twentieth century, through decolonization to the postcolonial era. The goal is to insert Kew, botany, and botanic gardens into broader literatures about mid-twentieth century colonial development, processes of decolonization, and the intersection of science and decolonization.

Through the study of at least two other colonial botanic gardens (one of which being the Singapore Botanic Gardens)this project will examine whether and how decolonization reconfigured established associations and networks, and the extent to which – in the wake of empire and the formation of newly-independent states – former colonial botanic gardens were invested with new meanings and repurposed to serve local or national objectives.

1st Supervisor: Prof. Sarah Stockwell

2nd Supervisor: Dr. Chris Manias

3rd Supervisor: Dr. Caroline Cornish


I trained as an art historian during my BA at the University of East Anglia and dabbled in the history of science as an MA student at the Courtauld Institute of Art, examining how the Aesthetic Movement in late nineteenth-century Britain responded to Victorian scientific cultures. 

COVID-19 struck shortly after I returned to Singapore, and I serendipitously landed a position as a research assistant at the National University of Singapore under a government scheme which helped recent graduates find a job amidst the pandemic. At the Department of Architecture, I rendered assistance on a project looking at the sociocultural histories and technopolitics of air-conditioning in Singapore and Qatar in relation to energy and the built environment. More recently, I moved to the Asia Research Institute where I investigated the medicalisation and industrialisation of faunal products in East and Southeast Asian traditional medicines from the 1950s to present in light of wildlife trade and species depletion.

As a budding historian of STM, I am particularly interested in how processes of decolonization and international development shaped and/or reconfigured scientific networks, institutions, and practice.



(Co-written with Jiat-Hwee Chang) ‘エアコン近代から低炭素社会へ ―シンガポールはいかに気候変動の危機に (From Air-conditioned Modernity to Lower-carbon Alternatives: The Case of Singapore Responding to the Climate Crisis)’, 建築雑誌 (Journal of Architecture and Building Science) 136, no. 1749 (May 2021), 7-11, translated into Japanese.


Papers Given:

(Co-written with Gregory Clancey, Liz P.Y. Chee, and Hao Pei Chu) ‘Traditionality and Animal-Based Drugs: A Database Project’, Medicinal Animals and Asia: Faunal Medicalization in an Era of Mass Extinction and Zoonotic Disease, Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 11-12 May 2023.

Public Engagement:

• Docomomo Singapore – web articles, biographies, and building entries include:

o ‘Industrial Heritage II: Power Stations and Jurong Industrial Estate’

o ‘Industrial Heritage I: Colonial Godowns and Airport Hangars’

o ‘Frank Wilmin Brewer’

o ‘Pasir Panjang Power Station’

o ‘The Arcadia’

• ‘20 Years of Architecture’, Design and Architecture, issue 120 (July 2021), 24-29.

• ‘The Internationalism of Singapore’s Modern Built Heritage’, Design and Architecture, web article (December 2020).

Research Grants, Awards, and Prizes:


London Arts and Humanities Partnership, ‘Kew and colonial botanic gardens in an era of decolonization’, Collaborative Doctoral Award, 2023-2027.

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